Age Matters

21 Feb

The statistics are in. Demographers and human resource specialists predict a ‘looming crisis’ (Carroll and Moss 2002; Johnston and Packer 1987; Green 2000).  The workforce is projected to grow only 8.2% between 2008 and 2018 compared to more than 12% in the previous decade and workers that remain will be older and more diverse (Employment Projections 2009).

And why, you might ask, is this relevant to writers?

It’s the generational communication gap, baby! And it’s not only here to stay, but has implications for every aspect of a writer’s world from the characters we create to the marketplace in which we offer our work.

Age matters as much as culture, gender and other demographic characteristics because generations share historical and social life experiences. These, according to the experts, offer broad profiles of an individual’s likely motivation, work style, relationship preferences, and attitudes toward authority and personal responsibility.

Now, I know what you’re thinking . . . ‘but I’m special, unique . . .me’. Well, yeah, but beyond individual quirks, we all have a great deal in common. The nuance of what’s common, what’s different, and the why of it make our characters and their choices resonate with the reader

In the workplace, managers deal with conflict arising from generational diversity. The same generational diversity exists in the fiction marketplace ~ in writers, agents, editors, and the buying public. The same generational diversity (and characteristics) should show up in some way ~ even if it is to smash a stereotype ~ in our characters.

The experts disagree on the specific years (I’m either a boomer or Gen X depending upon whom I read), but the profiles are fascinating.

Traditionalists (born before 1942-45): loyal to organizations, respect authority, responsive to dedication and sacrifice as motivations, duty-driven (and bound)

Baby Boomers (born between 1943-46 and 1960-64): this group comprises 2/3 of the U.S. population, consider big picture and systems, disapprove of absolutes and structure, somewhat distrustful of authority, generally optimistic, self-indulgent

Gen X (between 1961-65 and 1980): impatient, multi-tasking, flexible, informal, self-reliant, question authority, cynical, short attention span

Gen Y (1981 to 2000): confident, tenacious, tech-savvy, lack conflict management skills, need flexibility, these folks come from the empowerment years where all the kids won and everyone earned a medal, they crave independence but prefer collective action

Gen Z (after 2000): the millennium babies

What can we do with this?

First, let’s consider our characters. I like the idea of a character who defies the profile. What if I have a Gen Y woman who is a traditionalist through and through, but is thrown in the path of a typical Gen Y man? Would the ‘bad guy’ behave differently in terms of horrible and heinous actions if s/he were a baby boomer versus a Gen X, Gen Y, or Traditionalist? My son, who is a millennium baby, asked me if Gen Z would have to save everyone because the BB, Gen X and Gen Y screwed everything up (out of the mouths of babes). He raises the appeal of the child who sees more clearly than the surrounding adults, and ends up saving the lot of them (Harry Potter anyone?).

Where are you in the generational continuum? What does this mean for your writing? And, for those of you with far more experience than me in the fiction marketplace, what might generational diversity mean for our profession?

NOTE: I’ll be working out of town on a project when this posts and may not be able to respond to comments until late in the day. Thanks – Liz

Carroll, James B., and David A. Moss. 2002. State employee worker shortage:  The impending crisis. In Trends alert:  Critical information for state decision-makers. Lexington, KY: The Council of State Governments.

Employment Projections – September 2008-18. 2009. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor.

Green, Marnie E. 2000. Beware and Prepare;  The government workforce of the future. Public Personnel Management 29:435-443.

Johnston, William B., and Arnold C. Packer. 1987. Workforce 2000:  Work and workers for the twenty-first century. Washington, DC: Hudson Institute.


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24 responses to “Age Matters

  1. blankenshiplouise

    February 21, 2012 at 6:11 AM

    Oh, sure, we screwed it up because everything was just peachy before we came along…

    “We didn’t start the fire,” as the man said. There are no permanent solutions, history will always dog our steps, and we’re not spending our children’s future because they’re going to pass the buck along in exactly the same way. Just make the best of the situation. Tread lightly and do as you would be done by.

    I’m Gen X (’71), can you tell? 🙂

    What does it mean for my writing? Maybe it puts a darker cast on things, but it’s not as if that’s limited to Gen X writers. I would think it has a bigger impact on my consideration of my audience — the difference in how my mother (war baby, don’t call her a boomer) will perceive something versus how a current teenager (late Gen Y? Millennial?) will perceive it… what does my reader consider the “right” thing for my characters to do? Can they both sympathize with my characters?

    Because I know that when I’m reading about some starry-eyed, idealistic character I’m rolling my eyes inside… and I know that some other reader is 100% on board and just as starry-eyed.

    It takes all kinds to make the world go round, of course. And no one story will grab everybody. But I think it’s a fascinating question.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    February 21, 2012 at 7:11 AM

    You made me snort coffee with your very first line!! I’m with you on the starry-eyed idealist . . . can’t help thinking ‘oh buck up sister’ and I really hate whiny female characters – can you tell I’m GenX-BB? Consideration of the audience is crucial. I always enjoy your comments – makes me think.

  3. Meredith Conner

    February 21, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    I had to have my cup of coffee first before I could respond. I’m Gen X as is my husband which means our conversations are usually short and take place while we are doing something else 🙂 As for my writing I’d have to say that . . . wait I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
    You do analyze and break things down so well Liz.

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:39 PM

      So subtle, Meredith!! You made me snort my wine now – as it’s several hours after I first posted. I’m sorry to be late on this. Thanks for the kind comment.

  4. florence fois

    February 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    I had my coffee already and with a good buzz on … I’ll step up to the challenge. I mean someone here has to step up and represent the Boomers. So what. I am an x-hippie, flower child and comprise the largest demographic in the country … 73.1 millions strong.

    Tough that we’ll use up your SS fund. We didn’t rob and rape the account. Too bad if we were the last to enjoy sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll without the need for a blood screne before each date and when the music was fun … hell everything was fun. Tough. My kids are Gen-X … my grandkids Gen-Y and my parents were part of Tom’s “Great Generation.”

    The way I see this for my writing? A huge boost in every way. I love and enjoy the generation gaps, differences, changes and perceptions and use them to my advantage when creating characters. Now, I’ll toddle over and get some more coffee while you guys figure out how … what will you do when you retire 🙂

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:41 PM

      I swear Florence. . . the picture of your toddling at the threat to use up social security . . . Everyone is in rare form today.

  5. Peggy Staggs

    February 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Great information, as usual. I feel a little left out–I fall in one of the gaps. I work with people of all ages and I see the traits of each group. I’d be interested to see if they broke any of this down by the parents occupation, and socio-economic parameters. This is going to be an invaluable tool in characterization.

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:44 PM

      Hey Peggy, there are actually some interesting, yet dry, studies done on exactly the nuances you suggest. I think location in the country matters also. I suspect being a farm chick influenced me to be a bit more of a traditionalist than my BB/GenX peers. Your experiences with a military family probably offer a good contrast and I know that I’ve seen these dimensions in the characters you’ve written.

  6. kylie frost

    February 21, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    I’m a boomer, a snowbird, retired, and love life. I find humor in so many things and now that my group is aging, it’s even more fun. I just finished a young adult novel and I realized my teenage years were nothing like these kids. Her generation bias (I guess it could be called that ) showed in that author’s writing – I know it shows in mine.

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:51 PM

      Hi Kylie, I have to admit to being frustrated with many of the young adult novels – or saddened. I hate to think of young people being anxious or afraid when they should be savoring being able to jump out of bed in the morning without having to run through 16 yoga stretches just to stand up straight – that’s probably just me! LOL

  7. Janis McCurry

    February 21, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    I’m in a gap as well. Does that mean I get to be a ‘tweener?

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:45 PM

      I’ll officially anoint you as a ‘tween’ – go and use it wisely, my dear.

  8. Vonnie Davis

    February 21, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    Super post. One that made me think. It simply never occured to me that the age of a writer would slant how she/he would tell a story. Hmmm…I’ll be mulling htis around all day. I’d like to repost your blog, with your permission and proper credit, of course to my writers’ group blog. I think they would find your perspective just as interesting and thought-provoking as I. If I may use your post, please email me at

  9. Marsha R. West

    February 21, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    I’m the beginning of the BB’s and probably because of that have more characteristics of the category before. I ususally write about older characters–40-55ish and I love the fact the population is aging. I see that as more folks likely to read about my characters. I’m just not into those ditzy 20 year olds, and hope others of the more mature group are also so inclined. (Of course, many agents and editors are really young–so that’s probably not a good thing to me. LOL)
    Fascinating post, Liz. I’m sure I could do more with some of my younger characters if I used this info. Thanks.

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:47 PM

      Thanks very much, Marsha! I really enjoy reading about women ‘of a certain age’ (ok, mine) finding love so am hoping to see more work like yours hit the market. I think there are a great many of us out there who’d like to see this.

  10. Susan Russo Anderson

    February 21, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    Great post. Thanks!

    • Liz Fredericks

      February 21, 2012 at 11:48 PM

      Thank you for checking out the post, I do very appreciate it.

  11. Lynn Mapp

    February 21, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    I am a Boomer, right on! Peace symbol. I never considered how this placement could impact the character. Thanks for making me think.

  12. Liz Fredericks

    February 21, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    You’re welcome, Lynn, gracious knows you always keep me on my toes!

  13. johannaharness

    February 22, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    I’m late catching up with GSW posts, but loved this, Liz. I don’t fit anywhere either. Boomers say I’m an X. Xers say I’m a boomer. I’m both too young and too old. Plus I write middle grade and young adult books, which I suspect means I never really grew up. My son asks me how old you have to be before you feel like an adult. I tell him I’ll let him know when I get there. I think I’m lost in time.

  14. Mary Vine

    February 23, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    Boomer here. Generally optomistic. Great blog post, Liz!


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